TORONTO (AP) — A prominent Toronto theater company said Thursday it has accepted the resignation of its founding artistic director following allegations of sexual assault and harassment by actors under his employ.
The move comes after four women held a news conference about the accusations and four fellow actors resigned in a show of support for the women, saying they would not work at the Soulpepper Theatre Company until Albert Schultz had no role with company.
Katie Saunoris, a spokeswoman for the Soulpepper, said Schultz’s resignation is effective immediately. The board of directors previously suspended Schultz on Wednesday pending an investigation.
“Mr. Schultz’s resignation will allow Soulpepper to focus on its core mission: to provide a safe community for its exceptionally talented group of professionals,” Saunoris said in an emailed statement.
On Wednesday, four women revealed they had filed lawsuits alleging he exposed himself, groped and otherwise sexually humiliated them.
“I know that I can’t work there knowing what I know,” actor Ted Dykstra said in a show of support. “It’s because I know these women and I believe their stories.”
The allegations of sexual misconduct have roiled Canada’s theater community in a way similar to that previously seen in Hollywood, Washington and the U.S. media world since reports about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein surfaced in early October.
“The ‘Me Too’ campaign has shown that for the first time … people are listening and that people care,” Patricia Fagan, one of the women who brought a lawsuit, said at a Thursday news conference.
Schultz confirmed the resignation and plans to “vehemently defend” himself.
“I have made this decision in the interest of the future of the company into which I poured the last 20 years of my life, and in the interest of the aspirations of the artists and administrators of the company,” he said.
Also Thursday, his accusers said they were motivated to come forward because of what they described as hypocrisy and unsafe working conditions at the theater company.
One of them, Kristin Booth, said she went public after statements from Soulpepper touting anti-harassment policies that she says she never saw.
Fellow actress Hannah Miller said it was hard to speak out knowing the damage it could do to the theater.
“The implication that we are ruining something is maybe the reason why it’s so hard,” Miller said.
Fagan’s lawsuit charges that Schultz assaulted her during a rehearsal of “Twelfth Night” in 2000, when he tried to show her what he wanted by “pushing his penis against her buttocks.”
Booth says Schultz questioned her about her sex life with her fiance and suggested they get a hotel room together. On another occasion, she alleges, he pressed his “erect penis against her body” while hugging her.
The women’s lawyer, Alexi Wood, said Soulpepper did nothing to protect the actresses from Schultz.
Soulpepper said its “priority is to create a workplace where all its employees feel safe” and it “takes all allegations of harassment very seriously.”
Soulpepper bills itself as Toronto’s largest not-for-profit theater company, and Schultz has played a key role in its repertoire.
He is also an executive producer on “Kim’s Convenience,” a play-turned-TV show aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
“While this has been a tremendously difficult chapter in Soulpepper’s history, today’s decision ensures the organization is able to move forward with confidence and remain a leading Canadian theatre company,” Saunoris said.